The social impacts of a large development project: the Lesotho Highlands Water Project
Matli, Moeketsi Boniface
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Projects are regarded as vehicles for development; developments are meant to enhance the quality of human life. Various types of development projects are carried out depending on the prevailing problems or opportunities, needs, objectives, target communities or areas, and the availability of resources and funds. Projects should have relevant activities particularly in the developing world in order that they can positively contribute towards developing mankind. Further, it is possible that some large water development projects like the Lesotho Highlands Water Project could easily be ill-considered developments resulting in extremely high costs and tremendous damage to the environment and human beings. Therefore, projects should ensure that the environmental impacts are properly mitigated, and that the distribution of benefits is fair while assuring that the underprivileged benefit well. A successful water development project must deliver to those immediately affected and to those it is meant to develop. The 1986 Water Treaty between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa guarantees better livelihoods for affected communities. Fixed royalties from the water sale, the variable royalties from taxes on some project activities and earnings from other activities such as increased tourism are expected to generate revenue income to raise the country’s economy. Simultaneously, hydroelectric power is to make the country self-sufficient in energy. However, LHWP has spawned differing opinions on whether or not it has been a successful project this far. This is because its social impacts are mixed with benefits and detriments affecting many people and societies within Lesotho particularly in the project affected areas. The study has been conducted by holding discussions with sampled communities in dam-affected areas as well as in unaffected areas for broader national perspective. This has also afforded the opportunity to determine what Basotho locals think of LHWP. The mayhem of assets compensation, resettlement of displaced communities and the rural development programs in which LHWP finds itself in are the major determinants. Of prime importance is the compliance with the water Treaty signed by the Lesotho and the South African governments to better the well-being of affected communities. Comparative case studies show similarities of these socio-environmental impacts. The study focuses specifically on the rural dam development of Ha Katse and Ha Mohale in a developing country where poverty, lack of services and underdevelopment are dominant. It establishes how the negative and positive impacts affect people of the areas under study after nearly twenty years of the project’s existence. Further, it aims to ascertain if social benefits engendered by LHWP vis a vis the cost of asset and resource losses borne by the Basotho justify the project, and whether the envisaged objectives have been met. Therefore, the study endeavours to determine the social impacts of LHWP as experienced and told by those affected by the dams and those that it is meant to develop. It also takes cognisance of the views of the water project authority, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, in this respect. Furthermore, through some recommendations, it sets out to encourage ever more that the project should be successful in that the benefits of the dams should encapsulate balanced economic, environmental and social sustainability.
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